Jim Thome's Remarkable Season

Why read a caption when you could read Jim Thome's Twitter feed? http://twitter.com/jimthome (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

I sat down Tuesday night to write a little bit about the amazing season Jim Thome has put together for the Minnesota Twins, while enjoying the series opener against the White Sox. At this point the move seems pretty prescient, considering Thome homered, doubled, and walked in the Twins' 12 to 6 victory.

Before I dive into some numbers, I just wanted to step back for a moment and consider how remarkable it is for Thome to be performing as well as he has so far in 2010. Thome is 39, making him the oldest hitter on the club since Ruben Sierra nabbed 33 plate appearances in 2006 and Pat Borders started 14 games behind the plate in 2004*. Acknowledging his dozen or so at-bats with the Dodgers last season, he's playing a part-time role for the first time in his Hall of Fame career, only getting regular playing time in the past month. He's starting for a new team, in a new park, in a new role, at an age when most ballplayers are either retired or playing like they should be. And yet, the man continues to rake.

Now, since Thome was playing fairly infrequently in the season's first couple months, he doesn't qualify for the batting title, so he doesn't show up on most MLB leaderboards. However, he does have more than 230 plate appearances on the season. So we can at least see how Thome stacks up against all other major leaguers who have stepped up to the plate at least 200 times this season:

  • Thome's .392 OBP ranks 14th in the majors, between Aubrey Huff and Shin-Soo Choo, and 3 spots behind a certain catcher we all know and love. This is the highest OBP Thome has posted since 2006, and pretty close to his career average of .404.
  • His .579 SLG ranks 7th - seventh! - among all hitters, bested only by Miguel Cabrera, Justin Morneau, Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto, Jose Bautista and Luke Scott. That's some pretty good company. This is the highest SLG Thome has posted since 2006, and is even higher than his (Hall of Fame) career average.

But slugging percentage doesn't really do Thome's power numbers justice, does it? A large portion of a player's slugging percentage is just their batting average, which is driven by their total hits (i.e. singles). Thome has never really hit for average, and now, considering his age and lack of speed, he's not really a threat to bat anything much higher than his current .267. That's why we have Isolated Power (ISO) - it takes a player's slugging percentage, subtracts their batting average, and leaves you with a number that solely measures a player's extra-base power.

After his homer and double Tuesday night, Thome's ISO now sits at .313. That is an incredible number. It's the second highest ISO in the majors, behind only Jose Bautista (who has hit nearly as many homers as singles this season). In fact, it's the highest ISO Twins fans have seen in a long, long time.

Using the Lahman database, I looked up the last time a Twins player posted an ISO above .300. It wasn't Morneau. It wasn't Torii. Not Chili, not Hrbek, not Gaetti. No, not Coomer, either. See where this is headed?

The last Twins player to have at least 200 plate appearances in a season and post an isolated slugging percentage above .300 was Harmon Killebrew in 1969. In fact, it's only happened four times in Twins history - three coming from Killer.

In other words, using ISO as our guide, Jim Thome is currently packing more power into each of his at bats than any Twins hitter since Harmon Killebrew. At 39 years of age. Playing part-time. Getting irregular at-bats. While earning a fraction of Nick Punto's salary.

That is remarkable.

Of course, in all fairness to Killebrew (and Morneau, and Hrbek, and all the rest) I should also recognize that Thome's part-time role has allowed Gardenhire to protect Thome from tough lefties, which is important to his overall rate stats considering his sizable lefty/righty splits (1.025 OPS vs. RHPs, .738 OPS vs. LHPs). That being said, Thome is still posting a solid .204 ISO against lefties (although nothing like his .336 mark against righties). It should also serve as a reminder of how well Gardenhire has handled Thome so far this season: it's August and Thome is healthy and hitting like its 1999. That, too, is remarkable.

When Morneau comes back, Gardy will again have a tough time squeezing his numerous corner outfielders/first basemen/professional hitters into the line-up. Thome's tremendous season will make it all the more difficult to distribute playing time, since his age and injury concerns make him the most likely candidate to sit. The good news is, no matter how old he gets, how you use him, or when you play him, if you put a bat in Jim Thome's hands, he'll mash baseballs.

His OPS as a starter this season is .945. As a pinch hitter, it's .976.

*Side note: that sentence about Thome's age wasn't nearly as interesting as I thought it'd be. In the back of my head I was thinking Thome might have been the oldest Twins' hitter since Paul Molitor. But now that I looked it up and realized how wrong I was, I couldn't resist leaving in a reference to Sierra and Borders, if only for the memories.

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